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PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 381 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 

HENET NELSON WIEMAN. 

"C^OR the purpose of connecting more closely with cur- 
■"• rent discussion this paper has been put into the form 
of a criticism of an article by Professor J. E. Boodin, pub- 
lished in The International Journal of Ethics for 
January, 1920, and entitled "The Unit of Civilization."' 

Professor Boodin maintains that there is one supreme 
principle of social organization to which everything else 
in society should be subordinated. This principle we call 
the principle of personal organization. It is embodied in 
what may be called the personal group. By personal group 
we mean any small group of individuals, brought together 
in face to face converse, between whom natural human 
sympathy plays spontaneously, and in which the unique 
personality of each can be recognized by the other members 
of the group. This group Professor Boodin calls the unit 
of civilization. 

In his article Professor Boodin recognizes two types of 
social groups; but only one of these is ultimate, according 
to him, the other being altogether derivative, artificial, 
instrumental, having no value save as it promotes the first 
kind of group. Generally this second kind of group, he 
thinks, is an excrescence upon the social order. These two 
types of social organization we designate the personal and 
the impersonal, respectively. In analyzing and defining 
these two we shall not follow Boodin very closely; but I 
think we shall be altogether true to his thought. 

1. The Two Groups Contrasted. 

The personal and impersonal groups may be contrasted 
with one another on four counts. 

1. In the personal group the individual responds to the 
total personality of the other members of the group. By 
that we mean that each member adapts himself to the 
Vol. XXXI— No. 4. 3 



382 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

thoughts, sentiments, purposes and needs of the other 
members. Each regards the other as a unique individual 
to whom he adjusts himself in a special way. Each under- 
stands the other. Any association of friends would repre- 
sent such a group. However, it is, quite possible to have 
a personal group in which there is antagonism and hate, 
providing only there is this mutual recognition of the unique 
individuality of each, and special response to such unique 
individuality. 

In the impersonal group, on the other hand, there is no 
such recognition of personality among the members. Each 
may respond to some act on the part of the other just as 
one would respond to some physical object or mechanical 
signal; each may respond to some function of the other; 
or it may be merely the spatial position of the other to 
which one adapts himself. In any case it is not the unique 
individual purpose, not the shades of feeling, in the other 
which one recognizes; it is not the more comprehensive 
thought of the other that one appreciates. The Southern 
California Edison Company is an example of an impersonal 
group of which we all are members if we use the electricity 
which it supplies. The bank in which we have money 
deposited is one of the impersonal groups, including all 
the other depositors and borrowers as well as the officials. 
Our Life Insurance Company is another impersonal group 
including all the other policy holders and the officials as 
well as the investors of the deposited funds. 

2. The second point of difference between these groups 
lies in the degree to which one's entire personality is in- 
volved in the response. The first point of difference lay 
in the object of response, which in the personal group was 
approximately the entire personality of the other. This 
second point of difference 'lies in the subject of response, 
which in the personal group is approximately the entire 
personality of the self. By entire personality we mean 
that complete system of instincts, sentiments, purposes, 
interests, pre-dispositions, wishes, wants, call them what 
you will, which go to make up the dynamics of the human 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 383 

organism. In order to have a comprehensive term with 
which to designate this dynamic equipment of the human 
being I shall use the word tendency, meaning by it every- 
thing from reflex to life-purpose. 1 The distinctive feature 
of the personal group is, then, that a great many more 
tendencies of the individual are simultaneously aroused in 
the response between its members than is the case in 
response between members of the impersonal group. It is 
in the personal group that we find most activity of those 
deeper sentiments such as love, play, hate, etc., which are 
nothing else than organized systems of tendency including 
all or most of the major instincts. In the home, in the 
association of friends, in the discussion group, we experi- 
ence that stimulation of all our tendencies, which appears 
in consciousness either in the form of deep pervasive emo- 
tion or else in the form of mental activity, wide, varied, 
rapid, creative and spontaneous. 

In the impersonal group, on. the other hand, emotion is 
at the minimum and mental activity, although at times it 
may be very strenuous, is effortful rather than spontaneous, 
instrumental rather than creative, exercised as a means to 
ultimate satisfaction rather than as satisfying in itself. 
All response in the impersonal group tends to assume the 
form of the minor units of behavior which operate auto- 
matically. Thus in the impersonal group of motorists on 
a congested street corner one tends to respond to the signals 
of the road in an automatic fashion. When the man in 
front of me holds out his hand, indicating that he intends 
to turn to the right, I adapt my conduct to his with scarcely 
any emotion or thought upon the matter. In the bank I 
sign my name to the check, thus responding to the require- 
ments of the group. But only a very few of the tendencies 
constituting my personality are involved in the act. In 
the polite society of the ball room or reception hall my 
conduct becomes an unemotional, unthinking, mechanical 
fulfilment of the rules of etiquette just in so far as the group 

1 Cf. Holt, E. B. The Freudian Wish. Pp. 3 and 4. 



384 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

is an impersonal one. But the moment I meet there an 
old friend or an old enemy, my response is transformed. 
My conduct ceases to be a matter of a few reflexes and 
comes to involve all those tendencies that make up the 
deeper sentiments and more comprehensive purposes of 
life. 

3. The third point of distinction between these groups 
lies in the plasticity and the rigidity of their respective 
types of order. The order of the personal group is highly 
plastic; that of the impersonal is rigid. The order of the 
personal group is constantly shaped and reshaped by the 
changing needs and purposes of its members, because its 
system of organization is nothing else than the mutual 
adaptation of its several members to the needs and pur- 
poses of each. It adapts itself to every personality that 
comes into it, just as the personality reciprocally adapts 
himself to the group. Thus it is in the personal group 
that one finds maximum social freedom, just as we have 
already seen that in the personal group mentality is most 
fully aroused, emotion most deeply stirred and understand- 
ing of other persons most complete. 

The order of the impersonal group, we have said, mani- 
fests rigidity. Its order is prescribed by rules and regula- 
tions. It is not maintained by mutual adaptation of per- 
sons directly to one another, but rather by adaptation of 
each person to the impersonal regulations or code that is 
enforced. This code may be designed and enforced by 
some dominating personality, or it may be merely the prod- 
uct of accumulating tradition. In any case it constitutes 
a framework into which each member of the group must 
fit himself, and in so doing his activities are automatically 
co-ordinated with those of the other members of the group. 
The members of an industrial plant, for instance, may act 
in such a way as to constitute a beautifully co-ordinated 
system. This system, however, does not arise out of any 
mutual consideration for one another on the part of the 
workers. It arises out of the mechanism of regulations by 
which their activities are co-ordinated. 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 385 

4. The fourth point of contrast is in respect to the per- 
manence or change of the personnel of the two groups 
respectively. The personnel of the personal group is rela- 
tively permanent. The personnel of the impersonal group 
is constantly changing; The employees of the industrial 
plant come and go, but the members of the home continue 
their relations to one another throughout a life-time. The 
political order may seem to be an exception to this, for it 
may be quite impersonal, and yet its personnel is fairly 
permanent. This, however, is due to the peculiar position 
of the political order relative to the other groups. It is 
supervisory over all the other groups, and hence, wherever 
we go we are always either actually or potentially under 
its control. However, it should be borne in mind that the 
political order is usually less impersonal than the industrial 
system. 

These are the four points of contrast between the per- 
sonal and the impersonal groups. In the personal group 
the response of the members to one another involves the 
entire personality, both as subject and as object of response; 
its order is highly plastic; and its personnel is permanent. 
In the impersonal group the response of the members to 
one another involves the minimum of personality both as 
subject and as object; its order is rigid and its personnel 
is transitory. 

2. SUPPLEMENTARY CHARACTEB OF THE TWO GROUPS. 

It should be noted that no actual social group is ever 
purely personal or purely impersonal. All actual social 
groups are a mixture of these two types. But we call any 
group personal rather than the opposite if in it the personal 
type greatly predominates over the other. There are 
many actual social groups which are very largely personal; 
there are others which are very largely impersonal. 

Our thesis is that these two types of social order, or, as 
Plato might say, these two ideas of society, are both indis- 
pensable. One cannot be reduced to the other or derived 
from the other, or made purely instrumental to the other. 



386 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

On the contrary each contributes something which is indis- 
pensable to the life of society. What is more, each contrib- 
utes something which is indispensable to the life of human- 
ity, as over against the life of lower animals. 2 This is our 
point of difference with Professor Boodin. 

Lack of space forbids more than briefest reference to the 
correlative values of these groups; but we must indicate, 
however sketchily, some of the chief matters with respect 
to which they are supplementary to one another, and so 
mutually indispensable. 

The personal group provides social freedom by reason of 
its plasticity and that mutual adaptation and comprehen- 
sion of personal purpose on the part of its members relative 
to one another. The impersonal group, on the other hand, 
provides discipline which is equally requisite for human life 
in order to stabilize human purpose and bring human 
endeavor into effective action upon the grim facts of reality 

The personal group stimulates the mind to maximum 
creative activity; but it is the impersonal group which 
enables the individual to gather that wealth of data which 
it requires as material to work upon. The Socratic dia- 
logues show how the mind may be aroused to maximum 
activity but its efforts rendered largely unproductive 
because of that lack of data which only the impersonal 
group can provide. The glory of Greek civilization was 
its high development of the personal group ; the weakness of 
Greek civilization was the inadequacy of its impersonal 
organization. 

The personal group engenders that progressive evolution 
of human purpose which is perhaps the most striking charac- 
teristic of human life in contrast to the lower orders. Man's 
purpose ever widens as it advances, like the rolling snow- 
ball. It is the personal group that makes it so widen. But 
it is the impersonal group which alone is able to provide 
that mechanism of achievement by which such purposes 
can be executed and so lead on to something larger. 

2 Cf. Hocking, W. E. Human Nature and its Remaking. Chap. 34, 35. 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 387 

It is the personal group which causes the human con- 
stantly to amplify his environment, i. e., seek response to 
an ever greater number of different qualities in each object 
and an ever greater number of different objects to which to 
respond. But it is the impersonal group which standard- 
izes his response to the given environment in such way as 
to assure sufficient collective adaptation to it. 

It is the personal group that engenders delicacy of re- 
sponse and. depth of emotion. But it is the impersonal 
group which provides that interlocking chain of conse- 
quences and that wide field of endeavor by reason of which the 
results of one human life become a worthy object of deepest 
emotion and most delicate susceptibility. In a word, it is 
the impersonal group, with its wide reaching systems of 
co-ordination and its indestructible institutions, that give 
world-wide significance and historic efficacy to the work 
of the individual. 

After these very meager statements of the supplementary- 
character of the two types of social order, suffice it to say 
that these two types together constitute the motor of social 
evolution. Take away either one and the process of social 
development comes to an end. That fertility of the historic 
social process, out of which has arisen all the arts and 
sciences, is due to the marriage of these two types, in so 
far as social organization has anything to do with the procr 
ess. The entire social problem may be resolved ultimately 
to the matter of adjusting these two systems to one another 
in such a way as best to promote human welfare. All the 
evils of the social order at the present time, or at any 
time, we believe, may be traced back to some maladjust- 
ment of these two types to one another. Individualism, 
for instance, when it is not a meaningless abstraction, can 
mean nothing else than the personal group. Socialism, 
meaning by that term not a political party but a certain 
principle, can be significant only as it represents the princi- 
ple of impersonal organization. Liberty and law is another 
antithesis which finds its interpretation in these two con- 
trasting types. Human rights and property rights is an- 



388 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

other dyad that springs from this same opposition of prin- 
ciples. All the modern problems of industry, of political 
science, of the home and family, of education and of insti- 
tutional church head up into this problem of how to adjust 
the personal and impersonal groups to one another. Our 
criticism of« Boodin is that he has traced all these problems 
back to a monadic principle. We maintain on the other 
hand that the ultimate principle is dyadic. 

The details of the adjustment of these two orders to one 
another and the practical execution of this adjustment lies 
outside the field of Philosophy; but the analysis of the 
problem and the general principles of the adjustment are 
distinctively the work of Philosophy. Furthermore, before 
the expert and the specialist can approach such a problem 
with any reasonable hope of success, there is one supreme 
question for which he must have the answer. And only 
Philosophy can give the answer. 

3. Human Welfake as the Standard for Adjusting 

the Two. 

The problem is how to adjust these two orders to one 
another in such a way as best to promote human welfare. 
But what is human welfare? That is the one supreme 
question. We say that only Philosophy can give the 
answer. It is true that philosophers are by no means 
unanimous in their answer. Nevertheless, just as soon as 
anyone begins to enquire what- is the nature of human wel- 
fare in general he forthwith becomes a philosopher whether 
he will or no, for that is a philosophical investigation. We 
must then endeavor to state what is the nature of human 
welfare in so far as it bears upon this problem of adjusting 
the two orders to one another. 

Holt, Perry 3 and others, have defined human welfare as 
that organization which will yield maximum fulfilment to 
the greatest number of tendencies, irrespective of time, 
place, person, or other quality that may inhere in the tend- 

s Holt, E. B. The Freudian Wish; Perry, R. B. The Moral Economy. 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 389 

encies concerned. Perhaps our own statement of human 
welfare may be best presented by contrasting it with this 
of Holt and Perry, because, while it is closely allied thereto, 
it is markedly different. We should say that human wel- 
fare consists of that organization which yields maximum 
simultaneous activity (not maximum fulfilment) to the 
greatest number of tendencies in each individual concerned. 
The opposition is between the two terms, maximum fulfil- 
ment and maximum simultaneous activity. 

Maximum fulfilment of the greatest number of tenden- 
cies requires a serial co-ordination of them in such manner 
that each can be fulfilled in succession one after the other. 
Simultaneous arousal of them, on the other hand, may 
make impossible the fulfilment of any one of them in the 
sense of bringing that one to quiescence through satiety. 4 
Thus, if in presence of an apple the food-getting impulse is 
the only one aroused, I shall eat the apple and thus bring 
the tendency to an end through its fulfilment. But sup- 
pose in addition to the food-getting impulse, there is also 
aroused an aesthetic response to its color and shape, also a 
sentimental response because of its association with the old 
home orchard of my boyhood; furthermore, it symbolizes 
to me the beloved personality of the one who gave it to me. 
Also, as I contemplete it, many a myth and legend comes 
to me — the apple of discord cast among the Greek gods, 
the apples of Hesperides, the apple which Atlantis stooped 
to pick up, the apple which Eve first ate, etc. These do 
not by any means come clearly to my focus of conscious- 
ness, but waver about the fringe of consciousness, being 
simultaneously aroused and holding one another in abey- 
ance. Plainly such a response involves the simultaneous 
activity of a great many tendencies with respect to the 
apple. The very multiplicity of these prevents any one 
of them from overt fulfilment in the form of eating the 
apple, tossing it in the air, fingering it, giving it away, etc. 
It is maximum simultaneous activity of tendencies, not 
maximum fulfilment of them. 

4 Cf. Stewart, J. A. Plato's Doctrine of Ideas. Part II. 



390 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

The sort of response just described may be called total 
response, because it involves so many tendencies. It ap- 
proximates response of the total personality, in contrast to 
that succession of responses wherein each represents merely 
a fraction of the personality. 

We have said that total response does not yield fulfil- 
ment of tendency. But here a distinction must be made. 
There is one type of tendency which does find fulfilment in 
total response, but it is a type not generally recognized 
among behaviorists. We must define it. 

Human tendencies may be divided into two kinds, cen- 
tral and peripheral; or, if one prefers other language, deter- 
mining adjustments and units of behavior. 5 Peripheral 
tendencies or units of behavior seek to attain a certain 
equilibrium between the organism and the environment; 
when this equilibrium is attained these tendencies are ful- 
filled and become quiescent. The central tendencies or 
determining adjustments, on the other hand, have a very 
different function. They do not act directly upon the 
environment, but operate only upon the peripheral tenden- 
cies or units of behavior in order to organize these units of 
behavior into a system, adjust them to one another and 
to the environment, regulate and direct them in various 
ways. 

Now it is plain that while total response prevents the 
fulfilment of the peripheral tendencies to some measure, 
it gives largest possible fulfilment to the central tendencies ; 
for it is only when many different tendencies are aroused 
simultaneously that it is possible to organize any complex 
and extensive system of reaction. But this process of 
organizing is precisely what constitutes fulfilment of the 
central tendencies. Total response, then, means maximum 
fulfilment of central tendencies, but not maximum fulfil- 
ment of peripheral tendencies. That situation in which 
central tendencies find largest fulfilment is the one in which 

6 Tolman, E. C, in Psychological Review, May 1920, Vol. 27, p. 217, article 
entitled, "Instinct and Purpose." 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 391 

is required most reorganization of peripheral tendencies, 
their greatest readjustment and redirection. The situa- 
tion in which peripheral tendencies find largest fulfilment, 
on the other hand, is the one in which these tendencies 
require least readjustment, least reorganization and least 
redirection. 

So we have two kinds of good, two kinds of satisfaction, 
two kinds of value, which are qualitatively different from 
one another and altogether incommensurable. It is im- 
possible to measure one against the other to see which is 
greatest in quantity. The two cannot be quantitatively 
compared, because there is no common unit with which to 
measure them. These two kinds of good may be desig- 
nated spiritual and material, respectively. These two 
terms, spiritual and material, are often used in a very vague 
sense; but our analysis, we believe, gives to them a ra- 
tional and psychologically justified meaning. 

These two values constitute the dyadic principle of human 
life. Both are indispensable. Take away either one and 
human life would disappear. Take away total response, 
leaving serial co-ordination, and human life would cease 
to be human. It would become that of lower animals. 
Take away serial co-ordination, leaving total response, and 
the human race would shortly cease to exist in any form 
whatever. Total response is fertile and creative, ever 
generating more complex forms of behavior. Serial co-or- 
dination is specific and adaptive, ever sustaining that vital 
equilibrium which the living organism requires for its 
existence. Total response continuously amplifies the en- 
vironment to which the organism responds; serial co- 
ordination continuously adapts the organism to its given 
environment. 

4. Priority of the Personal Group. 

Although these two modes of response are equally indis- 
pensable, one may have priority over the other. Which 
should it be? As said before, we cannot compare the two 
quantitatively and give priority to the one which yields 



392 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ETHICS. 

the greatest amount of good, because the two are incom- 
mensurable. They cannot be quantitatively compared. 

There is only one other method of determining which of 
the two should have priority. That is to study the two 
great evolutionary processes which are developing human 
life. These two are biological evolution and social evolu- 
tion. If we should discover that these two processes are 
steadily increasing the one kind of human good while they 
are scarcely sustaining the other kind even at its ancient 
level, then our question would be answered. Then we 
should know that the world process is bent on developing 
to the maximum one of these, but not the other. Then we 
should know that the world process had decided the matter 
for us and given priority to the one. We, as frail humans, 
could do nothing else than adapt ourselves to this process. 

We cannot here take space to outline any such study of 
evolution. We shall only say in passing that our findings 
seem to indicate plainly that the good of total response is 
the one which is being ever enlarged by the processes of 
evolution. 6 

If this be the nature of human welfare it throws some 
light on the problem of how to adjust the personal and the 
impersonal groups. The personal group, as we have seen, 
represents total response. The impersonal order sustains 
serial co-ordination. Our criterion indicates that the per- 
sonal group should be given priority. This, of course, is 
only the barest introduction to the problem. 

Let us say in conclusion that our modern society is 
plainly suffering from an inordinate development of the 
impersonal group. There is, however, a very wide recog- 
nition of this evil and there are some very interesting social 
movements on foot to rectify it. The evil is most acute 
in the industrial world and it is there that the most striking 
of these movements appear. Note, for instance, the recent 
development of shop committees, the participation in man- 



• This theme is developed by L. T. Hobhouse in his books, Morals in Evolu- 
tion and Development and Purpose. 



PERSONAL AND IMPERSONAL GROUPS. 393 

agement on the part of the employees, the organization or 
proposed organization of all workers in certain industries 
for the purpose of exercising full powers of management. 
This last appears in the Building Trades of England and 
was proposed in the Plumb Plan for the American railroads. 
These movements, directed to throw off the crushing 
yoke of the impersonal system from the neck of the personal 
order, are not limited to the industrial world alone. There 
are similar movements, less developed, but nevertheless 
genuine, in the world of political organization, in education, 
in ecclesiasticism and the home. Everything seems to 
indicate that we are on the verge of a vast social trans- 
formation in which the personal group shall again regain 
its dominance. The danger will be that we shall swing to 
the opposite extreme and ignore the values of the imper- 
sonal system altogether. That would be as disastrous as 
the immediate past has been with its overweening strength 
of the impersonal order. 

Henry Nelson Wieman. 
Occidental College, 
Los Angeles.